John the Lydian on the month of May – now online in English!

The 6th century Greek writer, John the Lydian, composed a work in 4 books on the Roman months (De mensibus).  The work is full of antiquarian information, which makes it a fascinating source for Roman time.  Book 4 consists of 12 chapters, one for each month.

In a very timely way,  Mischa Hooker has now translated the chapter on May for us all.  Here it is:

As ever, this is public domain: do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.

I’m hoping that there will be more of the months to come!


John the Lydian – On April

Mischa Hooker has sent over another chunk of John the Lydian, De Mensibus book 4.  This time it is the section on the events in the Roman month of April.  It’s very interesting, as ever!

JohnLydus-4-04-April – final (PDF)

We’ll need to decide whether to carry on with this project.  A printed translation of De Mensibus has just appeared from the Edward Mellen Press; and another is in progress elsewhere.  I hope that our activities have perhaps stirred up some interest in this neglected text; but it does leave us in a quandary!


John the Lydian, On the Roman Months — “February” now online

I am delighted to say that another section of John the Lydian, De Mensibus, book 4, has now made it into English!  This is the portion that deals with Roman calendar events in February.  As always, I make this public domain.  Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.

It’s really rather an interesting section this.  Who would have thought that it contained medical details?!

The translator has also agreed to have a go at the section on April, so we have more goodies to look forward to!


From my diary

Good news.  I have today received the first draft of the translation of “February” from John the Lydian’s On the months (De mensibus) book 4.  It’s a cracker.  How this text has avoided being translated before I do not know.  The footnotes added by the translator are also very, very useful.  To read this stuff is a liberal education.  I will post the final version online when it is ready.

Also in the works is a translation of a curious text on the Seven Sages, attributed to Athanasius but in reality part of the gnomological tradition.  In this the sages predict the coming of Christ.  I have the PDF, but need a Word document so that I can post it here.  It’s a useful piece, showing how the Greeks in the Middle Ages created a rival “pagan prophets of Jesus” tradition to stand alongside the Jewish prophecies in the Old Testament.


Soliciting donations

For some years now I have commissioned translations of previously untranslated texts.  These I make freely available on the web.

A correspondent has suggested that I should make it possible for generous-minded people to contribute.  As an experiment, I’ve added a “Donate” button on the right hand side.

Not quite sure how I feel about this, but if you would like to contribute, feel free to click the button.

At the moment we have a number of translations going forward.  Ephraem Syrus, Hymns against heresies 23 and 24 are in the works.  I have today commissioned a translation of “February” from John the Lydian’s, De mensibus book 4.  Just so that you know where funds go!


John the Lydian: December

Mischa Hooker has kindly translated for us all the section on December from John the Lydian, De Mensibus, book 4. The hand-written copy which alone preserves this work is, unfortunately, badly damaged in this section, leading to various restorations and gaps.



153. December was so named as being itself the tenth [month] from March.

154.[1] …with harmony having been divided……everything and it is guarded……<the> experience[2] of <Phaeth>on and [170] the actions of the <wat>er <at the time of Deucali>on <h>int at <a certain image> of th<e passions that> have <become apparent in t>he universe. <But the Phoeni>cians have<a> somewhat different opinion about Cronus, by w<ay o>f homonymy, <or in accordance with> a certain a<llegor>y, as <one can determi>ne <from th>e second [book] of Phoenician [History] of Herennius Philo. And the history tea<ch>es that he also reigned o<ver> Libya <and> Sicily <and the western re>gions, <as> I related <earl>ier,[3] and that he founded a city, as Charax says—t<he one then ca>lled Cronia, but now Hierapolis, as Isigonus <On the Pal>ic Gods and Polemo and Aeschylus in his Aetna ha<ve taught, or as> Euhemerus’ <whol>e history, adorn<ed> with details, [says], setting o<ut cleverly> his spec<ulations>[4] about the so-called gods……hides <away>…<of al>l sor<ts>…divine; <so that also> P……[5] says <f>in<ely in h>is [work] On Dionysus that the <just among ki>ng<s and pri>ests were honored by <the> gods thems<elves> with equal honors and titles and thus <were called gods> in a <myth>ical manner, while the history <has b>een transmitted <in a> fic<tionalized form>.

But there are some who [171] say that Cron<us—or, b>y a ch<ange of letter, Ch>ronus [“time”]—was the child of Uranus [“sky / heavens”]; for indeed, time derives from the <movem>ent of the heavens. And in his temple, as Phyl<archus says in the> 17th [book] and Menander in <the> 1st [book], no woman or <dog o>r fl<y> would enter.

Such thin<gs, th>en, have <been said> by “those outside”;

[6] <but the sacred> account[7] runs as follows, verbatim—for <I w>ill addu<ce> the very words of the <gre>at Proclus:[8]

And Cronus <indeed>, being fourth, <both> receives the scepter of his father <by force> and hands it on to his <child> under <comp>ulsion, according to the outward appea<rance> of the myth. And the myth-writers [9] appear to have taken the cause of <this sor>t of verbal elaboration from the particular character<istics of the g>od. For he is the leader of the Titan<ic> or<der>, on account of his separative [faculty] and <the> highest of intel<lectual> [entities], among which difference shone forth—and for this reason <they say that he> both receive<s> and gives kingship, as <the power> that struggles in a warlike and <forcible> manner <to add> the second things to the fir<st>.[10] For the ge<nus> of difference is truly ill-dispo<sed and> anti-social, <as> Plato says.[11] Hence indeed <the son is said> to separate <himself> from the father, and <the s>on [is said] to seize his <rule in turn>, [172] <for>cing <the> harmony <toward> both on account of the particular Titan<ic> nature.[12]

Such things he too wrote in his <ex>planation of the sacred m<yths>.

At the new moon [13] of the month, they would refr<ain from [eating] cab>bage and would <pr>ay to Poseidon and Aphrodite and Amphitrite, <and> f<urthermore the> powers[14] [would pray] to Cronus on behalf of <the> coming winter—<and> lik<ewise> also to Tyche [i.e., Fortune] the Overseer, to Sophrosyne [“moderation / self-control”], and to Eros, whom the myth-writers consider to be the child of Z<ephyrus the gi>ant, as Eurytus the Laced<aemonian l>yric poet says. He begins thus: “Eros, of delightful appearance.”[15] And Plato in the Symposium says that at the birth of Aphrodite, Penia [“poverty”] came up and plotted in secret against Porus [“resources”], who was drunk on nectar, and in this manner Eros was conceived.[16] O<n this basis> the great Moses speaks allegorically about the generation of mankind.

On this day, Varro says that the Hyades set and [it is] w<inte>r from this point on.

155. On the next day, Eudoxus predicts the rising of Sagittarius, and the winter / storm.

And they would also celebrate the festival called Agonalia [17] in honor of Helios Daphnêphoros and Genarchês,[18] just as at Athens the rites at the Daphnephoria [were celebrated].[19] On this [day] also the festival <they> called <“Septi>mundius” was celebrated—that is, the circuit around [173] the ci<ty, since> the walls of Rome were spread <over seven h>ills. <And> the name<s> of the<se> are: <Pa>latium, Esquilium, Tarpeium, Aventinum, Tibu<rtium, Pra>en<es>tium, Viminalium. But <among> the ancients, [they were named] differently, as follows: Aven<t>inus, Caelius, <Esq>uilius, Capitolinus, Velinensius, Qui<rina>lius, Pala<tinus>.

156. On the third day before the Nones of Decem<ber> is a <day> without work, on which Euc<te>mon s<ays> the Dog [i.e., Canis Major] rises and <the wint>er be<gi>ns.

And a chariot-race was held, at which abom<inable [?]>[20]

157. The dipundii, meaning “new soldiers,” whom the Italians also call tirones from the fact that they serve because of their need for sustenance. [21] And they called them dipundii from their having been recently summoned to military service; for [it is] not [the case]…and they called them <dipun>dii from the fact that they endured military service, and were content with [wages of] just two coins—for the Romans customarily called two obols a dipundius.[22]

158. The Romans customarily divided their citizenry into three [groups] and distinguished those who were suitable for arms, those [who were suitable] for farming, and those [who were suitable] for hunting; and the season of winter brings an end to these [pursuits]. For in it, neither do they arm themselves, nor do they practice farming, because of the season’s cold and the shortness of the days—and hence in the old days they named it bruma, meaning “short day.” And Brumalia means “winter festivals”; [23] so at that time, until the Waxing of the Light,[24] ceasing from work, the Romans would greet each other with words of good omen at night, saying in their ancestral tongue, “Vives annos“—that is, “Live for years.”[25] And the farming people would slaughter pigs for the worship of Cronus and Demeter[26]—and hence even now the “Pig-Slaughter” is observed in December. And the vine-dressers would sacrifice goats in honor of Dionysus—for the goat is an enemy of the vine; and they would skin them, fill the skin-bags with air and jump on them.[27] And the civic officials would also [offer as] the firstfruits of the collected harvest wine and olive oil, grain and honey and as many [products] of trees as endure and are preserved—they would make loaves without water and they would bring [all] these things to the priests of the [Great] Mother.[28] And this sort of custom is still observed even now; and in November and December, until the “Waxing of the Light,” they bring [these] things to the priests. For the [custom] of greeting [people] by name at the Brumalia is rather recent; and, the truth [is],[29] they call them “Cronian festivals”[30]—and because of this the Church turns away[31] from them. And they take place at night, because Cronus is in darkness, having been sent to Tartarus by Zeus—and they mysteriously signify[32] the grain, from its being sown in the ground and thereafter not being seen. And this is quite true, as has been said: The attention to [these] things goes on at night, such that finally, in truth, the Brumalia are festivals of the subterranean daemones.


159. The natural [philosophers] say that at one time, before the “setting in order,” this universe was formless [33] matter—and hence the philosophers call matter Hades[34] and Tartarus—in that it is disturbed [tarattomenên] and unstable by nature on account of its formlessness. And [they say] it is timeless, but not without a beginning, and nonetheless [it is] originated[35] and caused;[36] from eternity waiting for the empowerment of <the> Father himself, having received by his will an existence that is wholly timeless. Hence, the Chaldaean names matter “Father-originated” in the Oracles; and it is worth hearing how Iamblichus speaks [of it] in the first [book] of his Chaldaica:[37]

On the one hand, matter is eternal, because it subsists along with the absolute first causes from eternity, and it has its existence among them and with them. On the other hand, it never stands on its own, because it has been set firmly among the common [things] in accordance with the same-named and unitary power. And it is not incomplete and limitless, but rather shares in a certain perfection, since nothing proceeds from the paternal triad incomplete, and it is led forward of itself into [its] perfection and limit. So then, when the basic elements[38] had been brought forth in this way after it [i.e., matter in general], but nevertheless were in a state of confusion, the Demiurge, taking up all that was then without order, not at rest, but moving unharmoniously, brought it into order, according to the Timaeus.[39] But when the elements were separated—the fire shining above on account of its natural lightness, the water falling to the depths because of its natural heaviness—then the myth-makers put Cronus in Tartarus, as [if to say that] when the fire went up the water [176] lurked in the hiding-places of the earth. And yet they say that he is the father of Zeus, because of his watery nature, which is known to tradition as the eldest of all the elements, according to the poet, who says: “Ocean, the origin of the gods, and mother Tethys.”[40] And they named the water “Tethys” similarly, from the fact that it naturally lies bounded by the dry earth on the one hand, and by the thick air on the other.

And thus the natural [philosophers spoke] about Cronus.

But we nevertheless find that he is also described in books as the child of Uranus, as being the rain-storm that is born from the air; hence, he is called hyetos [“rain”], as though [to say] hyios [“son”], or because after the heavens, there is the cold zone, and then the warm [zone]. And concerning the imprisonment of Cronus in Tartarus, Ammonius says that Cronus is the mind, or rather the soul—for [these are] not the same thing—while Zeus is generation / birth; and that before generation / birth, the soul has been confined in the body, and thus also the body is named demas, as the equivalent of desmos [“bond / imprisonment”]. And the “cutting off” [of Uranus’ genitals] is the last [step (?)], and is generative and productive of everything; such is the nature of the genitals. Cronus, the father of the Cronian nature, cast these down so that the heavens’ power of eternity would subsist also in the sea, that is, in the sublunar world (which indeed has been likened to the unstable and much-twisting [nature] of the sea), “where [there are] murder and ill-will and the other kinds of death.”[41]

Such things the Greeks [say].

160. Dionysus is the spirit [pneuma], that is, the warmth, that arose from the fire, and hence he was called Fire-born and Thigh-bred and Male-female by the Greeks,[42] since [177] they were unaware of the philosophical treatment regarding him and of what he actually was. For [as “Fire-born”] he is the warm spirit that from every sowing of every living, spiritual creature is inserted at the same time for the production of the life and growth of all things that are in the world. And he was called “Thigh-bred” because in the membranes and the genital parts and the veins that are in the thighs, this sort of material has been given a home in every living creature—and from this everything has taken solid form. And he was termed “Male-female” because of the fact that male-and-female sowings result in two, the male and the female natures, and it is not possible for one thing to be engendered from another, if [the two] do not come together. And the things fashioned by this [pneuma / Dionysus] will produce the living creatures. They have surmised that he is dissolved and is regenerated, because also the things engendered by him are likewise incessantly consumed and again brought to life.

161. The circle is the most perfect of shapes. Hence, the Egyptians, when they depict the world, inscribe a round, air-like and fiery circle, and a serpent with a hawk’s form stretched out in the middle of it as the connective Agathos Daimon. And the whole shape is like our T [theta].[43]

162. The number eight is feminine and unbounded and imperfect. Hence it is also called alitomênos [“missing-the-month”][44] by Nicomachus.[45] For the eight-month period is manifestly not in proportional relationship with any of the harmonics; hence, the eight-month-old [fetuses] are not brought to perfection. For, being between the perfection-bringing numbers [i.e., 7 and 9],[46] it is itself found to be imperfect. For since it partakes in every material power, it has been allotted the powers concerned with matter.


[1] The damaged opening of this section must have introduced an association between December and Cronus and the symbolic significance of Cronus; the “homonymy” mentioned early on in the surviving portion would seem to have been that between Gk. kronos (the god’s name) and chronos (“time”).
[2] Gk. pathos, sometimes to be translated “passion” (as later in this sentence).
[3] Cf. De Mensibus 4.71: “And Crates says that Cronus reigned over Sicily and Italy and most of Libya, harshly…”
[4] Gk. theôria.
[5] Hase suggested “Plutarch” as a supplement here; Wuensch guesses “Polycharmus,” and cites FGH 4:480.
[6] In Christian authors, this expression is frequently used to refer to pagans; here, however, it seems to refer to run-of-the mill historians, as opposed to esoteric philosophers like Proclus, who is quoted next.
[7] Gk. hieros logos.
[8] For this quotation, which is not verbally identical to any extant passage of Proclus, cf. Proclus, Comm. in Platonis Timaeum 3.169; Comm. in Platonis Timaeum 3.188; and especially Comm in Platonis Cratylum 149. Wuensch cites Theologia Platonica p. 258C.
[9] Gk. mythikoi.
[10] Alternatively, “<to urge on> the second things against the fir<st>.”
[11] Plato, Laws 3 [701c].
[12] Further “separating” his kingdom from that of his father: In Platonis Timaeum 2.225.
[13] I.e., the first day of the month (from the terminology strictly proper to a lunar calendar).
[14] “Powers” (dynameis) could be a reference to military “forces.”
[15] Gk. agalmoeidês, which could also mean “of glorious appearance” or “statue-like”; Wolff emended to aglaomeidês, “brightly smiling.”
[16] Symposium 203b.
[17] Cf. Warde Fowler, Roman Festivals, p. 280-82. This word or related words are associated with various days in the calendar, including Dec. 11 (in conjunction with Septimontia).
[18] That is, “the Sun Laurel-Bearer and Ancestor.” This may be a reference to Sol Indigetes; but Wissowa, Religion und Kultus, p. 372, does not try to identify the old Roman god involved here. Cf. also Diodorus Siculus, 37.11, for an oath of allegiance at the time of the Social War, sworn by “Helius Genarchês.”
[19] A Daphnephoria is attested in Boeotia (Proclus [probably different from the Neoplatonist philosopher quoted by John Lydus earlier] in Photius, Bibliotheca 239 [p. 321b Bekker]), but the epithet Daphnêphoros for Apollo is found more widely.
[20] The remains of a word here could point to an original meaning “deprecatory (prayers / rites).”
[21] The explanation perhaps depends on a connection with the Greek verb teirô, “to distress or weaken”; or the Latin tero, “to wear down / away.”
[22] Cf. OLD s.v. dupondius, meaning “two asses (small copper coins).” The transference of the term to new military recruits does not appear to be attested in Latin.
[23] Gk. Βρουμάλια δὲ οἱονεὶ χειμεριναὶ ἑορταί; alternatively, “…[function] as winter festivals,” but οἱονεί introduces the significance of a term just before, with bruma.
[24] Gk. τὰ Αὐξιφωτία, presumably referring to 25 Dec., as (e.g.) in the “Calendar of Antiochus” the date is marked: ἡλίου γενέθλιον· αὔξει φῶς. For the phrase, cf. also Cosmas of Jerusalem, Comm. in S. Greg. Naz. carm. [PG 38:464].
[25] Lit., “you will live for years.”
[26] I.e., Saturn and Ops, who were considered husband and wife, and whose festivals were associated at this time of year; some further considered them the equivalents of Heaven and Earth (Macrobius, Sat. 1.10).
[27] Cf. askoliasmos / Askolia, the name for such an “event” at the Rural Dionysia.
[28] I.e., the Magna Mater (Cybele) (?).
[29] Gk. τὸ…ἀληθέστερον; lit., “the truer [thing]” / “the quite true [thing].”
[30] I.e., Saturnian festivals (Saturnalia).
[31] Gk. ἀποτρέπεται; alternatively, “turning [people] away from them.”
[32] Gk. αἰνίττονται.
[33] Gk. aneideos.
[34] Gk. (H)aidês, which was often interpreted as being derived from a negative prefix (a-/an-) plus the root id– meaning “to see,” like the word aneideos.
[35] Gk. genêtos.
[36] Gk. aitiatos.
[37] I.e., his commentary on the Chaldaean Oracles.
[38] Gk. stoicheia.
[39] Cf. Plato, Tim. 30a.
[40] Hom., Il. 14.201.
[41] Empedocles, fr. 221.
[42] The epithets in Greek are Pyritokos, Mêtrotraphês, and Arsenothêlys.
[43] Cf. Herennius Philo, fr. 9 [= Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica 1.10.51].
[44] The image relates to a foetus which has not yet reached full gestation.
[45] Cf. Ps.-Nicomachus, Theologumena Arithmeticae p. 55 Ast = Ps.-Iamblichus, Theologumena Arithmeticae, p. 74 De Falco.
[46] Cf. Ps.-Nicom., Theol. Arithm., pp. 42, 58 = Ps.-Iambl., Theol. Arithm., p. 55, 78 De Falco.


From my diary

I’m still proofing the OCR of the English translation of Ibn Abi Usaibia, and reached p.639 last night.

The translation of Methodius De lepra is creeping forward.  I prompted the translator last night, and another couple of (short) pages arrived this morning, and I have just annotated them and sent them back.  These pages from the German need to be completed by a translation of a Greek fragment.  The translator has subcontracted that bit out, so it will need to be checked.  It will be interesting to see what that is like.

But great joy — a draft translation of John the Lydian’s section on December arrived this morning.  And in fact I had no comments on it, so it is pretty much done, and all I shall have to do is pay for it and upload it.

The translator of John also sent me a comment on the “cline” issue for the Sol Serapis post.

He’s also been working on the Origen Homilies on Ezechiel book, which I do hope we will manage to get out of the door sometime.  Most of it is done, and I think both of us will be glad to draw a line under it.

Meanwhile I’ve heard nothing from Chicago University since I accepted their price for digitising Loviagin’s Russian version of Methodius.  It’s hard to believe that any institution takes a week to answer an email.  I hesitate to nag them!

One of those winter viruses laid its cold hand on me at the weekend, so I’ve been a little under the weather since.  This morning the sun came out, and, feeling rather more normal, I drove up to Cambridge and visited the university library.  I think I got the very last free car parking space there!

It’s been a while since I’ve been — my pass ran out in June.  They will only issue me a pass for 6 months, which is tiresome.  There’s some noodle in the library administration with the fidgets — every time I turn up and reapply for another 6 months, there is some extra demand for evidence of this or that or the other.  But I got through the assault course OK.

I went to have a look at Vermaseren’s Mithras: the secret god.  I’ve only ever seen extracts of this, and I was looking to see whether he gave any sources for some of the line-drawings of reliefs.  And … he doesn’t!  I have a copy on order by ILL from my local library, so I will look at this some more then.  Curiously Cambridge did not have the original Dutch version of the book, nor the German translation.

Another item that I went to look for was the German original of Manfred Clauss’ The Roman cult of Mithras.  This was indeed present, but I couldn’t make much of it — I think the virus was trying to make a comeback at that point and my head grew fuzzy.

But what I did find was Reinhold Merkelbach’s Mithras; and I also found next to it the two volumes of Mithraic Studies edited by John R. Hinnells, Turcan’s book, and a few other items.  I was impressed with Merkelbach’s book — it looked very sound.  He surveys the data about Persian Mithra, and then starts a new section for Roman Mithras and states plainly that the latter was a new cult, using systematically elements borrowed from the Iranian mythology.  That seems to me to hit the nail on the head.

Finally, a bit of vanity: I went to the catalogue and searched for my own name, to see if the Eusebius book had been added to the library.  And it had!  Off I went, to find it next to all the other editions and translations of Patristic literature, but sadly minus its beautiful dustjacket.  I felt quite indignant for a moment at the loss of what had cost me so much time and labour; but then they do the same with all their books.  Nice to see it there, anyway.

I think I shall spend some time on the sofa now.  It’s been a busy day!


John the Lydian — On November

Mischa Hoooker has sent me a further chunk of John the Lydian, which again is seasonable.  This is the first English translation of John the Lydian, On the Roman Months, (De Mensibus) book 4.  The manuscript is increasingly damaged towards the end of the text, and the translation indicates damage with <> accordingly.

 A version of the text in Microsoft Word is here: JohnLydus-November.  All this material is public domain: do whatever you like with it, whether for personal, educational or commercial use.

John Lydus, De Mensibus (Book 4)



144. Cincius, in his [work] On Festivals, says that among the ancients, November was called Mercedinus, [1] that is, “Remunerative.”  For in it, the hired laborers would contribute the profits of the past cycle to the [land]-owners, as further returns were coming in in turn.  It was called [165] November later, from the number [nine]—for it is ninth from March.

145.  An oracle from the Sibylline [Books] declared that the Romans would preserve their kingdom just so long as they took care of the city’s statues.  And this oracle was in fact fulfilled; for when Avitus, who was the last to reign over Rome, dared to melt down the statues, thereafter it was the kingdom of Italy.[2]

146.  The Colchians, who are also called Lazoi, are the Alaïnoi.

147.  Marius the Great, while making war upon the Cimbri and the Teutones, saw in a dream that he [would] overcome the enemy if he sacrificed his own daughter to the “Evil-Averting” [gods]—and, preferring his fellow-citizens to his natural instincts, he did this, and overcame the enemy.[3]

Erechtheus, the leader of Attica, also did this, persuaded not by a dream but by an oracle, and he defeated his foes.[4]

…the maiden…the kindness of the daimon…the <hammer> she went past every habitation and to those…she roused, according to Var<ro> the Roman.[5]

It is said that <something similar> hap<pen>ed to the Lace<daem>onians…<according to> Aristeides,[6] who, in the fi<fth [?] [book]…> says:  When…this [166] <plague was oppressing Lacedaemon, <with ma>ny perishing, the Pythian god gave an <or>acle that <t>he disease <would cease> if every year, a yo<uthful and noble> maiden were <sa>crificed to the <“E>vil-Averting” god<s>.  <And> as the lawless supers<tition> was thus practiced <ever>y autumn, it happened at one time that <the lot fell> to Helen, and Tynda<re>us brou<g>ht his daugh<ter, adorn>ed <with g>arl<an>ds, to the altars.  When h<e> was beginning the <la>wless <sac>rifice, an eagle swooped down and snatched the ki<ng>’s sword, <and> released it <nea>r a certain white heifer.  And his bodyguards, <fo>llowing af<ter>, and becoming eyewitnesses of what had happened, led <th>e cow to Tyndareus.  And he, marvelling at Providence, ceased from <th>e m<urd>erous custom, and, sacrificing the he<if>er, brought relief from the suffering of the plague.[7]

148.  On the fourth and third days before the Nones of November,[8] in the temple of Isis, [is] the con<cl>usion of the festivals.  And there was also celebra<ted> the one called Drepan…—<a>t which festival, Metrodorus says the Sout<h wind> blows.  And it seemed good to the multitude to go unwashed until the end, as they say, in order to escape from disease.

On the ei<ghth> day before the Id<es of No>vember,[9] honors for Dem<eter> and <Eilith>yia were performed by the women.  Eilithyia <is the> ove<rseer> of <t>hose who are giving birth, <so t>ha<t the on>e, as Plut<arch> says, may <make> t<wo> in <simi>lar fashion <to> itself.[10]  And they say that Artemis is <also su>ch, [167] for those who are p<reg>ant, in their suffering.  But accordi<ng to th>e arithmetical ac<count>, Artemis <i>s the one who produces the birth-proc<ess> that moves toward completeness / evenness [eis to artion][11] and for this purpose hurries to c<ome> forth.  Therefore, <too>, the myth is told that Apoll<o>, when he was being <b>orn from Le<to>…when he had been displayed, she, serving the mother as midwife, sh<owed[?]>…to the same forth-………herself and Apo<llo>………[12]

149. <On the seventh day before the Ides of Novem>ber[13]………ten………is said to be placed underneath………according to the <Egy>ptian Hermes, who in the so-called “Perfect Discourse” speaks as follows:  “But the souls that have gone beyond the rule of piety, when they are freed from the body, are handed over to the daimons and move down through the air [as though] launched from a sling, down to the fiery and hail-filled zones, which the poets call Pyriphlegethon and Tartarus.”[14]  Hermes, for his part, [is speaking] only about the purification of souls; but Iamblichus, in the first [book] of his work “On the Descent of the Soul,” also mentions their restoration, allotting the area above the moon as far as the sun to Hades, with whom he says the souls that have been purified stand—and that it [i.e., the sun] is Pluto; and the moon is Persephone.  That [is what] the philo<sophers> [say.]  But the sacred rites of the festival were performed with words of praise at the unquenchable fire of He<stia, concerning which Porphy>ry s<ay>s the foll<owing>:  “By this sacrifice welcoming the visible heavenly gods, and bestowing undying honors on them through fire, they would also preserve undying fire in the temples for them, on the grounds that it was most exactly like them.”[15]

<Eu>doxus say<s> winter[16] [begins] from this day.

150. On <t>he following day,[17] [there is] a memorial of Remus and Romulus.[18]  When Amu<lius>, being tyranically dispos<ed> <toward Numit>or, <killed his> son, and <comm>anded that his daughter be a prie<stess>.  <And> when she <gave birth, as they s>ay, to Ares’ [offspring], he [i.e., Amulius] orde<red the inf>ants to be thrown into the sea.  But when his bod<ygua>rds <expo>sed them on the banks of the Tiber, a sh<e-wol>f approa<ch>ed them and offered <to> them her teats.  A sh<eph>erd, who had been watching this, to<ok> up the children and reared them as his o<wn>—and they founde<d> Rome.  The same [story can be found] also in Zopyrus of <Byzantium>…

151.  Beginning from the fifteenth of November, and all through December, the Romans would be idle, [169] being engaged only in festivities, because of the shortness of the days.

152. On the seventh day before the Kalends of December, Democritus says the sun enters Sagittarius.

It seemed good to the Romans to call beans faba, from the [term for the] West wind—when it begins to blow, this sort of plant naturally starts to sprout.  And in their [language], the West wind is called Favonius.[19]  Hence also March [is called] Zephyrites,[20] and similarly January [is called] Monias, from the monad,[21] and October, Sementilius, from the seed[22]—as antiquity has handed it down.  For the year, as established by Numa, begins from January, while the [year established] by Romulus [began] from March.  And the chronological beginning [established] by Numa is in harmony with the beginning [established] straightway by Romulus.  For indeed, Romulus began to rule in the spring, [23] but he carefully observed the month of Mars; and Numa, watching for the sun’s being in the midst of Capricorn, seems to have been in agreement with Romulus—for Capricorn is the exaltation of Mars.[24]

[1] Cf. Plutarch, Numa 18.2; Julius Caesar 59.4.
[2] Avitus was emperor 455-456.  For the (melting and) selling the metal from bronze statues, and the consequent discontent with Avitus, cf. John of Antioch, Historia Chronikê, fr. 202.
[3] Cf. Ps.-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 20 (310d 5-10).
[4] Cf. Ps.-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 20 (310d 1-5).
[5] Cf. Ps.-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 35 (314d).  Here in particular, the full text of Ps.-Plutarch will help to explain the references: “When a plague had gained a wide hold on the city of Falerii, and many perished of it, an oracle was given that the terror would abate if they sacrificed a maiden to Juno each year. This superstitious practice persisted and once, as a maiden chosen by lot, Valeria Luperca, had drawn the sword, an eagle swooped down, snatched it up, and placed a wand tipped with a small hammer upon the sacrificial offerings; but the sword the eagle cast down upon a certain heifer which was grazing near the shrine. The maiden understood the import: she sacrificed the heifer, took up the hammer, and went about from house to house, tapping the sick lightly with her hammer and rousing them, bidding each of them to be well again; whence even to this day this mystic rite is performed. So Aristeides in the nineteenth book of his Italian History.” (tr. F. C. Babbitt, LCL)
[6] As Wuensch points out, Aristodemus, not Aristeides, is cited by Ps.-Plutarch as the source for this story.
[7] Cf. Ps.-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 35 (314c 5-11).
[8] 2 and 3 Nov.  This would correspond with the Hilaria of Isis (celebrating the recovery of the parts of Osiris’ body) on the 3rd of Nov., as mentioned on the Calendar of Philocalus.
[9] 6 Nov.
[10] In this sentence, I am using the supplements suggested by Hase, printed in Wuensch’s apparatus.
[11] Cf. De Mensibus 2.7, discussing the second day of the week (Monday):  “Hence, she is called Artemis, from the even [artios] and material number [i.e., the number 2].”
[12] At the end of this section, the remnants are so scanty that little detailed sense can be made of the odd letter or word preserved.  The story, however, appears to be that Artemis helped Leto bring forth Apollo (as in Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.21).
[13] 7 Nov.
[14] Cf. De Mensibus 4.32.  For the Hermetic text cited, cf. Asclepius 28 [Nock-Festugière, Corpus Hermeticum, 2:334, printing John Lydus’ quotation as a parallel to the extant Latin translation]:  But if, on the other hand, [the highest daemon] sees [the soul] besmeared with the stains of misdeeds and befouled by vices, he casts it down from above to the depths and hands it over to the frequently quarreling squalls and twisters of air, fire, and water, so that, with eternal punishments, it may be buffeted and forever driven in different directions by the material currents.”  Lactantius, Divine Institutes 7.18.3, refers to the Asclepius as the “Perfect Discourse,” just as John Lydus does here.
[15] Porphyry, De Abstinentia 2.5—the text of Porphyry, however, reads “we too preserve the undying fire…”
[16] Alternatively, “stormy weather.”
[17] 8 Nov.
[18] T. P. Wiseman, Remus:  A Roman Myth (1995), p. 136, suggests some connection here with the Ludi Plebeii.
[19] John gives the Greek letter beta in the transliteration of both faba and Favonius.
[20] From zephyros, the Greek word for the West wind.
[21] I.e., the number one, as being the first month.
[22] Lat. semen, as John pointed out in 4.135.
[23] Alternatively, “set the beginning [i.e., of the year] in the spring.”  Interpretation is difficult because the Greek word archê can mean either “beginning” or “rule”; here, the beginning of the year has been the main issue, but if that is the only point again (i.e., the year began in March), the next part of the sentence follows illogically and redundantly.  As translated above, John Lydus is presumably referring to the Spring date of Rome’s foundation (21 April—see, e.g., Ovid, Fasti 4.807ff) and hence, the beginning of Romulus’ reign.
[24] Cf. De Mensibus 4.34.


John the Lydian, “On the Roman Months 4”: October

The next chunk of the first ever English translation of the calendrical book by the 6th century antiquarian, John the Lydian, has arrived! And very seasonal it is too! 

The chapter is a short one, which means that it can appear here.  Please note the excellent note 7 by the translator.  A number of the references are drawn from astrological writers, such as Euctemon, who usually marked the date on which various constellations rose or set.

[161]  OCTOBER 

135. For the Macedonians, October[1] is the first month, but for the Romans, it is the eighth from the spring, and hence they call it October, meaning “eighth.”  This month was formerly named Sementilius, from “seed”—for that [i.e., semen] is what Romans call “seed.”

On the [162] Kalends of October,[2] the priests would speak oracularly to the people, that they ought not to pay attention to their dreams, because of the images that were due to the moist swelling connected to the autumn fruit.  But from the “Waxing of the Light,”[3] that is, from January, one ought especially to pay attention [i.e., to dreams], in accordance with the opinion of Herophilus, who accepted that dreams were actually god-sent, whereas Democritus [classifies them] among manifestations of images. 

On the Kalends of October, Varro says that the Pleiades rise in the East.

The Romans thought it good to eat leeks all through the month, on the basis of some ancient tradition, to ward off the condition of gout.

136.  On the sixth day before the Nones of October,[4] Eudoxus supposes that there will be rain in the evening.

137.  In the case of the seeds that are cast into the earth, there was a certain power, which the sun draws along as it goes around the lower hemisphere at the time of the winter solstice:  Corê [i.e., Persephone] is the seed-holding power, while Pluto is the sun under the earth, who is said to have seized Corê, whom Demeter sought while she was hidden under the earth.  And the myths tell that the seizure [took place] at Aetna in Sicily [163]; for it is said that grain was sown there first.

138.  On the fifth of October, the Regionarchai and Sebastophoroi would dance in the Gusteion, as it were, the “Fish-shop,”[5] in honor of Tiberius.  And now the common people call this sort of place Augusteion.  In the uncovered [area] of the Daphne,[6] in the small courtyard, Constantine the Great set up a statue [stêlê]of his own mother, after whom he named the place Augusteion.[7]

139.  On the day before the Nones of October,[8] Democritus asserts that the Kids [i.e., the constellation Haedi] rise and that the North wind blows, while Eudoxus says that the middle of Aries sets.

On the Nones of October,[9] Varro predicts that the Pleiades rise in the evening, and the West wind [zephyros] blows, and then also the South-West wind [lips].

140.  Concerning the wooden horse, Euphorion says that it was a boat called “Horse” by the Greeks.  But others say that it was a gate with this name in Troy, through which the Greeks entered.

141. On the day before the Ides of October,[10] Euctemon considers it to be the absolute middle of autumn.

On the 15th day before the Kalends of November,[11] the sun enters Scorpio, as Callipus says.

On the 14th day before the Kalends of November,[12] Metrodorus says that the Hyades rise in the evening, and [there is] a violent wind.

142.  There are said to have been three Asclepii:  First, the [son] of Apollo the [son] of Hephaestus; he invented the surgical probe.  Second, the [son] of Ischys the [son] of Elatus and Coronis; <he> was buried on the borders of Cynosuris.  Third, the [son] of Arsippus and Arsinoe the daughter of Leucippus; this one invented surgery and the forceps for extracting teeth, and he has a grave in Arcadia.[13]  The astronomers say that he is Ophiuchus, who stands over Scorpio.

143.  On the day before the Kalends of November,[14] Varro says that Lyra rises together with the sun.

[1] I.e., the Macedonian month Dios.
[2] 1 Oct.
[3] Gk. ta Auxiphôtia.  Cf. 4.121, 158.
[4] 2 Oct.
[5] So LSJ.  Alternatively, “Cook-shop” (Sophocles’ Lexicon).  Gk. opsopôleion.
[6] Part of the imperial palace at Constantinople.
[7] This place (Augusteum / Augustaeum / Augustaion / Augusteion—to be distinguished from the Augusteus, which was part of the palace) was an open courtyard in front of the imperial palace (ultimately between it and the Hagia Sophia), the earliest development of which is obscure:  It certainly existed in the 5th century, and was later remodelled by Justinian.  For John Lydus’ account, cf. Hesychius’ Patria Constantinopoleos 40 (Preger, Scriptores originum Constantinopolitanarum 1:17):  “And he [i.e., Constantine] erected a statue of his own mother Helena upon a column and named the place Augustaion“; Procopius (Buildings 1.2.1 and 1.10.5) refers to it as an agora (market-place) “which the Byzantines call the Augustaion.”  For the idea that it was originally a “fish-shop,” cf. Suda s.v. Augustus (with the account of the statue of Helena) [based on John Lydus, it seems] and s.v. Justinian; andthe late Byzantine Ps.-Codinus, Patria Constantinopoleos, 2.15 [based on John Lydus, it appears, but substituting “the current ruler” for “Tiberius”] and 2.17:  “Justinian, after building the Hagia Sophia, purified the courtyard and coated it with marble stucco—it had previously been a gusteion, or ‘fish-shop.'”  Cyril Mango, The Brazen House (1959), p. 46, notes that the Chronicon Paschale (p. 593 Dindorf) reports that in A.D. 459 the city prefect Theodosius “built the Augustaion alongside the Great Church”—and that this source nevertheless also (pp. 528-29 Dindorf) gives the account that Constantine erected a statue of Helena and called the place “Augustaion.”  Cameron and Herrin (eds.), Constantinople in the Early Eighth Century:  The Parastaseis Syntomoi Chronikai (1984),p. 262, citing Mango and the Chron. Pasch., consider the association with Constantine the Great legendary.  Finally, Mango (p. 46 n. 50) notes John Lydus’ placement of the statue of Helena in the open area of the Daphne as a piece of information that conflicts with the location of the Augustaion; yet John clearly does not see a conflict—it may be that he is using the term Daphne loosely to refer to the palace in general, or that the story about the statue of Helena originally did not refer to the familiar Augusteion, but has been garbled at some stage in the transmission.
[8] 4 Oct.
[9] 5 Oct.
[10] 14 Oct.
[11] 18 Oct.
[12] 19 Oct.
[13] For these Asclepii, cf. Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.22(57)—Cicero also says (55) that the “first” Hephaestus (Vulcan), the son of Caelus, was the father of one particular Apollo.
[14] 31 Oct.


John the Lydian, September – now online

There is a chapter on the events of September in John the Lydian, On the Roman months, book IV.  The final version of the translation by Mischa Hooker has arrived!  I’ve uploaded the raw Word document here.  And, since it is September, it seems rather timely to see what the Romans did and saw in September.  I’ve placed it in the public domain — do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.

Since it is short, I give the text here.   There are a few gaps in the text in the sole manuscript, indicated with ‘…’  I do wonder whether modern methods might reveal some text here, or whether there are simply holes in the pages.

[158]    SEPTEMBER

121.  What we said was true, that the Romans set the month of March as the beginning of the year, and this can be grasped from the designation of the current month.  For they named it September, as being the “seventh” from the “spring”—for “seven” is septem and “spring” is ver [1]—that is, from the month of March, on the 24th day of which the sun, entering Aries, allows [159] the nature of spring to begin.  After that, it will not be necessary to go into the names of the following months at length; for October is the eighth from the “Waxing of the Light,”[2] and so forth for November and December.

122.  The number nine is divine, being composed of three threes, and preserving the perfections of theology according to the Chaldaean philosophy, as Porphyry says.

123.  Metrodorus says that at the new moon, Andromeda rises, and with the other winds ceasing, the East Wind prevails.

124.  On the day before the Nones of September,[3] Augustus defeated the Egyptians with Antony and Cleopatra at Leucate.  And for this reason, he introduced the reckoning of the cycle of the so-called “indiction” from the beginning of the month of September.[4]On this day, Democritus says there occurs a change of winds and a predominance of rain.

125.  The various distinctions of flavors are quite numerous, according to Apollonius, but the there are nine principal types:  sweet, bitter, sharp [i.e., acidic], pungent, brinchos [5], harsh / astringent, slimy [?],[6] severe / rugged,[7] and salty.  Hence also in this ninth month the Romans would pray for good
health. [160]

126.  On the Ides of September, [8] Eudoxius indicates that the Horse [i.e., the constellation Pegasus] sets, and the West—or Bright—Wind blows.

127.  We know that on cabbage a kind of “worm” grows, called “Curvy” [i.e., the caterpillar].  This animal, when the cabbage dries out in the spring, naturally turns into a winged “worm” like an ant, and somewhat larger, supported by white triangular wings; and it flies around in gardens in a way that is low to the ground and makes it easy to catch it.  And it turns out that this sort of “worm” is called “Psychê” [i.e., the butterfly, lit. “soul”].[9]

128.  Ten days before the Kalends of October,[10] Dositheus indicates that Arcturus rises.  On the 12th day before the Kalends of  October, Caesar says that the swallows leave.

129.  …of Nicomedes the tyrant of Bithynia.

130.  When there has been an excess of fire, a fever occurs; when air [has been excessive], a quotidian fever; when water, a tertian fever, when earth, a quartan fever.  And shivering tends to be the first stage of [all] these.  For whenever the aforementioned fluids are made thick by the cold—since this is a characteristic of both water and earth—at that time, as they travel through the pores they are not able to expel the thicker substances, but come into locations of these and produce a compression and crushing action; this of [161] necessity causes turmoil and quaking—which experience is called “trembling and cold.”

131.  The Romans, after defeating the Africans, conveyed the wild beasts from there to Rome and slaughtered them in the arena, so that not even the wild beasts from that region would remain unenslaved.

132.  The column [stêlê] of Tyche which stands in Byzantium was erected by Pompey the Great.  <For> after enclosing Mithridates there with the Goths, and dispersing them, he captured Byzantium.  And this is attested by the epigram in Latin letters on the base of the pillar, which says the following:

To Tyche Safe-Returner, on account of the defeat of the Goths.[11]

The place later became a tavern.  The Goths are Getae.

133. …but the common people call it delphax [“pig”].[12]

134.  And the oracle recommends drinking milk for the sake of good health all through the month of September.

  1. [1]Transliterated here as βέρ.
  2. [2]Gk. Auxiphôtia.  Elsewhere (De Mensibus 4.135, 158), John Lydus uses this term for the winter solstice (or just afterwards), but here, by inclusive counting, October would be the eighth after March, i.e., perhaps John is intending a reference to the spring equinox?
  3. [3]4 Sept.
  4. [4] The “indiction” system of 15-year cycles was used in the Byzantine empire, as well as in medieval Western Europe; the cycles were calculated from the beginning of September in Byzantium, as John Lydus says, but the system was not used until the late Empire.
  5. [5]LSJ:  “between…pungent…and astringent” (citing this passage)
  6. [6]Gk. blennôdês.
  7. [7]Gk. austêros.
  8. [8]13 Sept.
  9. [9]John Lydus continues to use the term “worm” (skôlêx) in reference to the animal, even though strictly speaking it should only have been used for one stage in its development.  On the development of the butterfly (“Psychê”), cf. Aristotle, Historia Animalium 5.19 (551A); Plutarch, Quaestiones Conviviales 2.3 (636C).  The odd reference to the ant does not appear in either of these. 
  10. [10]22 Sept.
  11. [11]For the still-extant “Gothic column” and its interpretation, see B. Croke, “Poetry and Propaganda:  Anastasius I as Pompey,” Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 48 (2008), pp. 462-3; C. Mango, “The Triumphal Way of Constantinople and the Golden Gate,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 54 (2000), p. 177.  It is likely to be connected with 3rd- or 4th-century victories over Goths (Claudius Gothicus or Constantine), not with Pompey the Great.  The Latin inscription on the column base, now barely legible, agrees with John Lydus’ account; it reads:  Fortunae Reduci ob devictos Gothos. 
  12. [12]This may be a reference to a part of the imperial palace at Constantinople; cf. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Cerimoniis 1.86 (p. 391 Reiske), etc.